The Future of Peace, Weapons, and War

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The Future of Peace, Weapons, and War
Mary Ellen O’Connell
November 3,2015

A conceptual struggle is being waged over the future of peace. On one side are participants who claim there is no longer such a thing as “peacetime.” The perspective is Hobbesian, seeing the world’s toughest challenges as military in nature. An adequate response from this perspective requires eliminating the law that restricts resort to force by drones and other means. The simplest way to do so is by declaring the world a war zone. There is another view. It is one recognizing the challenges of the 21st century but also seeing unbridled use of military force as part of the problem. Blowback from unlawful drone use helps explain the rise of ISIS, the instability of Pakistan, and the collapse of Yemen. The way forward is through expanding the legal zone of peace and focusing on the effective means to greater security through diplomacy, international law, and the judicious use of military force.
In March 2015, Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks published an essay in the influential journal, Foreign Policy, titled, “There’s No Such Thing as Peacetime.” In it she argues that we should abandon “the Sisyphean effort to ‘end’ war and instead focus on developing norms and institutions that support rights and the rule of law … not premised … on a distinction between war and peace.” She is not alone in imagining no future for peace.
There are many reasons why this Hobbesian vision is prominent today. It rests on realist ideology that has come to dominate Western thinking. Realism helps to account for the growth of the massive military apparatus found in the United States, which has taken on a life of its own. Having such capacity seems to cry out to some people for using it. Just one aspect of this phenomenon, new weapons technology, demonstrates how the possession of certain weapons is associated with pressure to use them, regardless of the law. The computer revolution in military affairs has given the world the weaponized unmanned vehicle or drone, which is rapidly being developed into the fully autonomous robotic weapon along with another computer dependent invention, so-called “cyber weapons.”
For US leaders this new weapons technology has substantially lowered the political costs of killing with military force. The impression of low cost, especially in terms of personnel killed, has helped to bring about the realty that the US now engages in militarized policing at home and abroad. Yet, plenty of evidence exists to conclude that fourteen years of killing with drones has not just failed; it has made the problem of terrorism, insurgency, violence, and instability worse. Audrey Kurth Cronin draws on a large body of data for her conclusion: “Drones are tactically effective in the short term but perilous for American counterterrorism in the long term.”
The French philosopher, Grégoire Chamayou, argues that the U.S. and others are killing with drones for reasons largely disconnected from measures of success. He, too, sees drone use as counter-productive to ending terrorism and explores why they are being used relentlessly despite this. The very possession of the technology leads to the will to use it and induces legal scholars to argue for the right to do so. The technology explains why long-time drone critics, Britain and Pakistan, have now killed their own nationals using drone-launched missiles. Richard Falk observes that “the international law of war has consistently accommodated new weapons and tactics that confer significant military advantages on a sovereign state, being rationalized by invoking ‘security’ and ‘military necessity’ to move aside whatever legal and moral obstacles stand in the way.” Or just declare the world a war zone.
The French philosopher, Grégoire Chamayou, argues that the U.S. and others are killing with drones for reasons largely disconnected from measures of success. He, too, sees drone use as counter-productive to ending terrorism and explores why they are being used relentlessly despite this. The very possession of the technology leads to the will to use it and induces legal scholars to argue for the right to do so. The technology explains why long-time drone critics, Britain and Pakistan, have now killed their own nationals using drone-launched missiles. Richard Falk observes that “the international law of war has consistently accommodated new weapons and tactics that confer significant military advantages on a sovereign state, being rationalized by invoking ‘security’ and ‘military necessity’ to move aside whatever legal and moral obstacles stand in the way.” Or just declare the world a war zone.
Hobbes is not the only thinker in history, however. Hugo Grotius and others have also had an influence. Their thinking invites us to re-learn the lessons of history when law and morality succeeded in restricting resort to force and the use of new weapons. After the Second World War, for example, a dramatic new set of principles emerged. Understanding how realist ideology came to be so dominant, pushing aside the law of peace, can indicate how to reverse this trend. A new wave of counter-militarist thinking and thinkers are capturing the world’s attention from Pope Francis to Jeremy Corbyn. As ever more seductive means to kill are invented, law and ethical principles oriented to the common good offer to free us from what even the realist political scientist John Mearsheimer has called, our “addiction” to drones.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Atlanta Council on International Relations. 

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